Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

So you’ve had your baby; you’re home from the hospital; the baby is nursing well. In a few weeks, you will look in a mirror and wonder if you will ever look the same as you did before you got pregnant. You might not, but here’s good news. If you are breastfeeding, that might be the best and easiest way for you to lose that weight.

If you gained 35 pounds while you were pregnant, and lost the typical 12-14 pounds having the baby, that leaves you with about 21 pounds to lose. And if you are breastfeeding your baby, you know you can’t go on a drastic Slim-Fast or other type of diet to lose it fast.

Did you know that nursing requires an additional 500 nutrient-dense calories a day? That’s a lot of calories that little one is using up. A mom who is breastfeeding her baby as often and for as long as baby wants often finds that she loses the weight by the time she looks up and draws breath again. That’s typically around 8-10 months, by the way.

Some lucky moms even find that while they are breastfeeding their child, they can indulge in calorie-rich, not so nutrient-dense foods without gaining weight. Remember the woman in “Desperate Housewives” that worked with Felicity Huffman? How she cried when her 5 year old weaned because “now she’d have to go to the gym”? That was a bit of an exaggeration: by the time a breastfeeding child is five, he isn’t using up enough calories for a weight-loss benefit anymore. But during that first and sometimes even second year of breastfeeding, some moms find that feeding their child is as effective as an exercise routine when it comes to the scale.

It comes with a bit of a price, though. I’ve noticed my biggest times of weight loss while breastfeeding come when the baby is going through a growth spurt, or teething, or something that causes him to want to nurse almost constantly. With my first child, that happened around 4 months. She was going through a growth spurt and teething at the same time. She wanted to nurse, both for food and comfort, night and day. But the weight dropped off during that time period and stayed off.

In an informal poll on a message board I frequent, about half the moms experienced this added little benefit of weight loss while breastfeeding. The other half tended to hold onto a stubborn extra 5-10 pounds until after the child was weaned. The ones who lost weight while breastfeeding also tended to add on 5-10 pounds after their child was weaned. It takes time to get in the habit of eating less. Even when your body no longer requires that additional 500 calories a day, you’ve gotten used to a cup of Ben & Jerry’s before bedtime.

For those women who need more help than breastfeeding to lose that extra weight, it is recommended to lose that weight slowly. You need to make every calorie count. Your baby needs a certain amount of nutrients and so do you. Think healthy eating rather than dieting. Eat small, frequent meals. Take a multi-vitamin supplement, or just continue with your prenatal vitamin. Eat a variety of foods: fresh vegetables, starches, whole grain foods that contain fiber, lean protein like chicken, fish or eggs, and dairy products for calcium. It isn’t necessary to drink milk to make nutritious milk for your baby, but your body will need calcium.

For a long time, people believed that exercising would interfere with breastfeeding by decreasing supply, but that is definitely untrue. A moderate exercise program is wonderful for new moms and doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding supply, taste or quality. You will want to make sure to wear a supportive bra, though. Exercise is great not only for weight loss, but for mom’s mental state and wellbeing.

Whether your weight is disappearing because of breastfeeding, or you have to help it along by tweaking your diet, it’s best to aim at losing no more than 1.5 a week. Too rapid of a weight loss can result in decreased supply of breastmilk. And it’s best to wait until your baby is about two months old before trying to lose weight, so a healthy milk supply can be established.

Most women are back to pre-pregnancy weight or close to it by the time their baby is a year old simply by breastfeeding, eating healthy and enjoying a little exercise.

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